Sudden wealth can leave
you rich -- and miserable
not living for payday anymore.
Imagine life beyond the 9 a.m.-to-whenever-the-work-gets-done
Imagine having all the money you could ever
Now imagine being miserable.
Myths and dreams
"I call it the myth of the American dream -- the assumption
that money can, should and does buy happiness," says Jessie
O'Neill, a psychotherapist in Milwaukee specializing in fiscal affairs
and founder of The
Just the opposite can happen. Coming into a
lot of money can lead to feelings of guilt, fear and isolation.
It's called "sudden wealth syndrome" and it's an affliction
more Americans are facing thanks to the roaring new economy and
red-hot stock market.
"People develop a kind of survivor's guilt,"
O'Neill says. "They start to wonder if they deserve what they
got. There's this feeling of almost being a fraud. 'Why me? I don't
deserve it.' It's basically a discomfort, a guilt with the money."
There's also a sense of isolation. Life beyond
the rat race certainly can be grand, but it's also kind of lonely.
Chances are your friends and family still have to get up and go
to work in the morning. Their lives are still very much dictated
by that almighty paycheck.
You're rich! Now what?
So much about this country and our very culture is rooted in
the pursuit of wealth. What happens when the chase is over? What's
What do you do with yourself? What do you do
with the money?
"It's a big one. It's a really big one,"
As you're grappling with your own feelings about
the money and what you're going to do with it, you also have to
deal with other people's attitudes toward money and their attitudes
toward you now that you have it.
Will your friends be insulted if you offer to
pay for dinner? Or will they think you're a cheapskate if you don't.
"Do I give different kinds of gifts to
people? Do I give them the same kind of gifts I gave before?"
asks Allen Hancock, cofounder of More Than
Money Journal, an organization that offers counseling, workshops
and quarterly newsletters for the wealthy.
"All those small kinds of interactions
can cause people a lot of confusion and anxiety."
It can be awkward for everyone involved. Some
new money people end up pulling away from family and friends to
avoid these kinds of situations. Others never let on that they have
the money in the first place.
Hiding in plain sight
Just ask Myra Salzer, president of The
Wealth Conservancy, who gives financial advice to people with
One of her clients is a college professor. During
the school year, he lives in a college town on a professor's salary.
"Every summer he goes off to a villa on
the Riviera under a different name," Salzer says.
No one at the university knows.
Another one of her clients found a more a middle-of-the-road
solution. He still likes going to basketball games with the boys.
The arena was located in a rough part of town. So he bought what
he called his "basketball car," a banged-up, used car
he could drive to the games.
"How do you go out for a beer with the
guys after the game in a Lotus?" Salzer says.
The best advice for
the newly wealthy
Still not convinced that these new money worries seem all that
bad? Would you trade your no-money blues for these new-money blues
in a second? Let's hope you get the chance.
If you do strike it rich, the best advice is
to just lie low for a while. Give yourself plenty of time to think
about what you really want to do.
"Find out what makes your heart sing. What
motivates you? What are you called to do?" O'Neill says. "That's
not an overnight thing."
As for the money, Salzer advises, "Do nothing.
Park it somewhere safe and learn."
Don't forget to enjoy yourself. Money gives
you the freedom to be you -- only bigger.
"When a person comes into money, it amplifies
their basic personality, their basic self," Salzer says. "If
they tend to be curious, they can travel the world. If they're intellectual,
they can go to school for the rest of their lives. If they're hypochondriacs
they can be fabulous hypochondriacs.
"If they know how to enjoy life they can
certainly do that with intensity."
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-- Updated: Feb. 2, 2005